'Don't panic,' says Lancashire's public health boss after furore over chaotic lockdown advice

Lancashire's public health chief today appealed for calm after an embarrassing Government mix-up over "mini-lockdowns" caused uproar in areas worst-affected by a new surge in Covid.

By Brian Ellis
Wednesday, 26th May 2021, 12:30 pm

Dr Sakthi Karunanithi said the confusion caused over the possibility of new restrictions in eight hotspots including Blackburn with Darwen, Bolton and Burnley was "regrettable."

And he said: "We need now to take responsibility to live safely with Covid and not panic and not have this small area approach.

"It hasn't worked in the past and there is no reason to believe it will work again."

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Dr Sakthi Karunanithi.

Dr Karunanithi was speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live as the row over new "rules" put out by the Government's own website over the weekend rumbled on. The measures were condemned as "lockdown by stealth."

He took part in a meeting between other public health bosses and Department of Health officials yesterday afternoon at which the advice to those eight areas was modified.

"We were able to clarify that there are no local lockdowns, nor is there any legal restrictions on travel in the communities that are affected," he said.

"And we agreed that the main effort here is to alert people to the variants and stick to a plan which is to continue to get more people their vaccines."

Surge in numbers wanting vaccination in hotspot areas like Bolton.

Dr Karunanithi was asked if people should now abandon their plans for the half-term holiday next week in those areas which are worst-hit by the new Indian variant.

"We are not saying 'think again,'" he said. "We are already saying to people 'please be careful and alert. It is always less riskier, not just in these areas, but in other places as well, to meet outdoors than indoors.

"There are no legal restrictions that are additional to these areas.

"We are very grateful for the additional surge in the vaccination and the testing, which is what we are doing and that is our main strategy out of this variant of concern. We have always had this plan and that's what we are activating."

Dr Karunanithi was asked if the public could be relied on to self-isolate without financial support to do so. He replied: "Self-isolation has always been a challenge, particularly in some areas that are more vulnerable to Covid than others.

"There have been a lot of barriers in terms of getting self-isolation funding and these barriers are now being removed and we are making it as easy as possible for people to benefit from this.

"There is one more last mile we need to do in this which is to accelerate the vaccination programme in those areas that are affected the most and are constantly and repeatedly being affected."

Asked about the wholesale confusion which followed the Government's poorly publicised advice he added: "We didn't really come across in a good light as a national-local team in this.

"It's regrettable, but we have had a discussion, it's been clarified and we are all working towards not repeating the same situation again."